Gifted to Learn
by Gloria Mehlmann
University of Alberta Press, 2008
$24.95, 323 pp, adult
Author Gloria Mehlmann weaves three separate stories together in her memoir: stories of students—including their marvellous gifts and their immediate needs; the result of the Canadian government’s policy on Indians and its effect on Indians living off-reserve in the 60s and 70s (as well as throughout the 1800s to the present); and a new teacher’s fledgling journey into the role and responsibilities of the profession.
This book will appeal to teachers new and old—it echoes the struggles of teachers to meet each child where he/she is, to open children’s minds to learning and to celebrate their accomplishments. It also reminds teachers that students will have as much of an impact on us as we will on them. Mehlmann highlights certain students’ stories—“the students she didn’t reach” (either because they moved away too soon or, at the advice of her colleagues, those she didn’t advocate for) as well as those with whom she experienced success. She notes that the science of teaching could also require a background of mastery of all the other educational disciplines (psychology, sociology, math and the arts, to name a few). She struggles, as all teachers do, with knowing when to push a student, and when to leave a child alone. Experienced teachers can reflect on their own careers through Mehlmann’s insights; new teachers can use her experiences and shared wisdom as a compass for their own careers.
Through a varied history from archives, as well as her own personal story, Mehlmann opens the reader to the horrors of residential schooling and cultural healing in response to formalized education. She often expresses her frustrations about inequality for women and Indians in the 1960s and 70s. Her narrative exposes the reader to the uncertainty of a changing society and the difficulty of ignorance and oppression.
Melhmann says “there was something about the profession of teaching that not only attracted wishful idealists but, also, strong-minded people with solid senses of personal value.” This book shows her as both—an innovative thinker looking to the future and an ideal of education and life in Canada, as well as a teacher using her strong intellect to open the minds of children throughout her career, challenging them to do better, learn more, and question always.
Review by Amanda Parker.
This review is from Canadian Teacher Magazine’s Apr/Mar 2011 issue.